When we were in a room up some stairs I hadn't noticed in a corner of the shop, I asked, "Is he often like that?"
Lily nodded, looking grim. "He's really used to getting his own way. I'm sure you can imagine how intimidating he is."
"Yes. Even without the dark aura, I have to say he is slightly scary. There's menace in one of his cold looks alone."
"When you've quite finished talking behind my back, could you get on with choosing the dress?" Timothy called up the stairs. He sounded annoyed.
I gulped. "Oops."
Lily winced. "He gets so mad so quickly! Anyway, let's get your dress sorted."
I looked around the room. There were clothes rails with all assortments of brightly coloured clothing. Each rail was labelled with laminated A4 posters reading Earth, Air, Nature, Fire and Water respectively. On the Earth rail, there were long brown skirts and dresses made of heavy materials with few decorations. On the Air rail were light skirts and dresses of varying lengths in light blues and white. The colours reminded me of fluffy clouds and skies. There were lots of pretty frills on these dresses. On the Nature rail were long dresses which were more varied in colours than the dresses on the other rail. They were grass-green, daffodil-yellow, rose-pink and lavender-purple: the kind of colours you'd see in a typical flowerbed during spring. On the Fire rail, the one I was interested in, were skirts and dresses with pleats ending in pointed edges which resembled tongues of flame in the colours naturally associated with fire. These dresses were more decorated than the others, with coloured sequins and ribbons which hung from the waistbands like uncurled proboscises. There were black dresses with red beads sewn on to form pictures of fire, long orange skirts which gradually faded until the colour was a pale yellow at the hemline and red blouses with tiny pictures painted on the buttons.
I wandered over to the Fire rail. One dress particularly caught my eye. It was a long red gown with short sleeves with grand frills.
I pulled the coat-hanger with the dress on off the rail and admired it, running the back of my hand along the soft satin. Satin was my favourite material to wear for evening events and the like, smooth and soft to the touch. It was beautiful, didn't feel too heavy and would, of course, be comfortable.
"Can I try this one on?" I murmured.
I turned to Lily. She smiled. "Sure."
She pointed to a door in the wall behind me. "The dressing room's just through there."
I tried on the dress. It was a perfect fit. I luxuriated in the feel of the material on my skin. I stepped out to show Lily.
And blushed as a startled boy who looked about 15 turned at the sound of my approach. Lily looked apologetic.
The boy whistled. He looked a bit like Lily with similar facial features and brilliant blue eyes, though his hair was medium brown rather than blond. He stood and stared. Mentally I willed him to go away but he looked transfixed.
Lily began to push him towards the stairs but he didn't appear to notice her.
"Sorry," she apologised, flushing with embarrassment. "He's my younger brother, Felix."
"Lils, you know you were always saying I should get a girlfriend..." Felix murmured quietly to her, finally seeming to acknowledge her presence and refusing to be pushed.
Lily blushed furiously. "Not her! She's Timothy's."
The boy finally stopped looking at me. He turned to face Lily, looking at her as if she'd gone mad. "Timothy Foxtail's?!"
Lily nodded fervently.
"Well, I never... Wait, isn't he a bit old for her?"
Lily looked as if she wanted the world to swallow her up. "Don't you think you're a little young for her?"
Felix looked puzzled. "Er, no. She looks my age." He turned to me. "How old are you?"
Lily cringed in shame. "Felix!! Your behaviour's outrageous!"
"Oh, shut up, Lils. Just because you grew up too fast."
"I'm 18," I told this strangely bold boy who I was starting to like.
"See?" Felix said to Lily. "I'm nearly 19! How can I be too young?"
I frowned slightly before remembering that witches looked younger than they actually were.
"Even if she weren't going out with Timothy, you wouldn't be mature enough for her! You act 15, remember?"
Felix frowned. "That's so annoying! Timothy Foxtail loves no one and then he gets the prettiest girl I've seen in my life!"
Lily rolled her eyes. "And I'm sure she's flattered. But she probably feels a bit awkward too."
Felix looked back at me. "She shouldn't be embarrassed. She looks amazing."
I nodded a thanks, though I still felt incredibly self-conscious.
Felix approached me, ignoring his sister's protests. He held out a hand and gave me a warm smile. "I'm Felix."
"Tirana," I murmured, taking his hand and shaking it.
"Oh, don't be shy," Felix said. "You look stunning."
Lily looked mortified. "Sorry," she mouthed.
I could still feel heat rising from my cheeks. Felix shook his head slightly.
"You have to have more self-confidence," he told me. "Too often, girls don't appreciate how beautiful they are. And you're so tense."
He squeezed my hand which I realised he still hadn't let go of.
"You just gotta relax and be more comfortable in yourself."
He gazed into my eyes. I really felt uncomfortable now. Something like adoration and yearning reigned there and I didn't quite have the heart to tell him he was being out of line.
"It was lovely to meet you," he murmured, sincerity saturating his tone. He lifted my hand and twisted it so my palm faced downward. He kissed it gently as if it were some precious delicate thing that could break at any second. My heart fluttered. He was so charming. I felt I might faint if this moment lasted any longer. Thankfully Lily ran towards us, wrenched my hand from his and glared at him. I looked away and the eye contact was broken. I let out a breath I hadn't realised I'd been holding.
"I hope you've prepared some explanation for Timothy as to why you kissed his rose-dove. Especially since he was already mad."
Felix didn't pay attention to the second bit. He looked shocked at the mention of the word ‘rose-dove'.
"But she's so fragile and innocent..."
I barely registered this latest compliment. My thoughts were whirring. I needed to sit down. What had just happened?
Lily seemed to sense my distress. "I'll tell him off," she said to me. "The dress looks great and fits just right. Does it feel okay? Not tight anywhere?"
I could tell she was hurrying so I wouldn't have to stand here too long. She looked quite concerned. I shook my head, unable to construct a coherent response in the aftermath of the whirlwind that was my thoughts.
"Okay. You can change back into your normal clothes and then I'll wrap the dress up for you."
I smiled faintly as I walked swiftly back to the dressing room.
I heard muffled shouts through the door. I sat down for a good five minutes or so before changing. I really hoped Timothy hadn't been listening to my thoughts during that lapse in my self-control. I hadn't wanted to do anything which would betray Timothy's trust or cause me to be classed as unfaithful, but Felix had undeniably swept me off my feet. I could still see his deep, blue eyes, widened slightly, from surprise perhaps, which had filled my vision and the look of longing to reach out and stroke my cheek or something more. It didn't help that I could see him being an extremely likeable person. He sort of radiated an energy of fun and carefreeness that made me think of him as an overgrown puppy rather than a teenage witch. He was a relieving contrast to Timothy's dark aura of coldness and this would make it dangerous for me to be near him for any prolonged amounts of time.
Downstairs, Timothy looked impatient. He scowled as I descended, evidently moody enough to show his emotions even as Lily came down behind me. Felix had already disappeared when I'd emerged from the changing room. I was very glad.
"You took a long time," Timothy said to me.
"There were lots of dresses," I replied, on the defensive.
"You hate wearing yellow and you only had to look along the Fire rail," he said argumentatively.
I groaned. "Are you going to be like this every time you get slightly annoyed?"
"Are you going to take this long every time we go dress-shopping for a Phase-Change ceremony?"
I tried to hide my anger as I pulled out my purse while Lily was carefully folding the dress before placing it into a large bag.
"What are you doing?" Timothy asked.
"Paying, of course," I answered, not turning to look at him.
"Don't be stupid. I'm paying."
"There's no reason I can't. Anyway, I should think Lily doesn't want you trying to lower the price again. That's her income you're decreasing."
I handed Lily two £50 notes. "Is that enough?"
Lily smiled. "Way too much."
She fished around in her till and handed me back a quarter of what I'd paid.
Timothy looked explosive when we walked out to his car. "You're totally unreasonable, you know."
I couldn't stand it any longer. "Did you ever stop to think maybe you were too? Or are other people the only ones who can make mistakes? I'm sure we could all learn a thing or too from ‘Mr Perfect' here, if only he'd be more patient with us."
Timothy kicked a tyre of his car. "You are so damn infuriating!"
"I hate you sometimes!"
I climbed into the car and crossed my arms. Timothy remained standing. "I wish I'd never met you!" he spat.
I looked up into that blazing fire of anger and made a big mistake with what I said next.
"You want to know why I took so long? I'll tell you why. Lily's brother saw me in the dress. And he was much more of a gentleman than you'll ever be! He greeted me with something that you probably will never understand - a kiss on the hand! He was so charming. The fact I found him so likeable is probably a sign that I wish I'd never met you either!"
There was silence. Then Timothy said, so quietly that I wondered at the amount of menace he could put into his voice, "Get out."
I opened the car door and slowly and deliberately got out, closing it behind me. I stood there, glaring at him. His expression mirrored my feelings exactly.
"Now get over here and say that last sentence again."
I walked over to him, stared up into eyes so dark they were more black than green.
"The fact I found him so likeable," I said slowly, enunciating each word, "is probably a sign that I wish I'd never met you either."
Then Timothy punched my face. Hard. I felt tears come to my eyes at the pain but tried not to cry as I tried to slap him. He grabbed my hand in midair and looked as if he were about to crush it in his fist (which I didn't doubt he could do) and then suddenly sort of fell helplessly into me. His lips were down on mine before I could blink and suddenly all of his pain was rushing to fill the newly opened space in my mind.
I told you I was no good for you, Tani.
Hot tears splashed onto my cheek, too many and flowing from the wrong place for them to be mine alone.
I could feel his anguish and grief at having punched his beloved rose-dove and his annoyance at himself for getting ridiculously angry over nothing. I was surprised by the force of his kiss. I could feel the strength of his emotions, but the way he let them control him was a strange, unimagined concept to me.
There was something new in Timothy's thoughts. A kind of hopelessness and desperation that tore at my heart.
Is he very likeable? Lily's brother? More than me? And you said charming? I'm not charming, am I, Tani? Do you wish I was charming? Am I really not good enough for my rose-dove? Oh, gosh, Tani, please tell me you love me...
‘I love you,' I thought soothingly while trying to convince him he was good enough for me. ‘I do love you. I could never love anyone the way I love you. I could never love anyone but you. And you are charming, in your own way. I don't care for any other charm than the kind you have to offer. It's only your charm I live for. Just forget all that stuff I said, okay? I was being stupid, I wasn't think-...'
No. I'm the one who wasn't thinking. I punched you for goodness' sake. Oh, gosh, I punched you.
He sounded as if he'd truly realised this for the first time.
He suddenly pushed me back and glanced at my cheek. He paled. "Oh no! I punched my rose-dove! I'm meant to protect you, not hurt you."
He hurriedly pulled out his sapphire. I wondered what he was doing until he muttered, almost too quickly for me to hear, "Eradicate blues, along with this bruise."
I felt a tingling sensation on the cheek where Timothy had punched me. The pain receded a little and I felt strangely content.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to influence your emotions there, but I couldn't think of anything else to rhyme with bruise that would have made sense. At least I didn't rhyme it with confuse."
I smiled. "Yes. Rather unnaturally contented than confused. And happiness never hurt anyone."
"Oh, on the subject of apologies, I'm sorry for punching you, Tani. That was really wrong of me. 1) You're a girl, 2) you're my rose-dove and 3) I love you."
I grinned at the last reason. "I'm sorry, too. It was wrong of me to slap you. 1) It's not your fault your emotions control you, 2) you're my kingfisher and 3) I don't love you," I teased.
"Why would that be a reason for slapping me to be wrong?" Timothy asked, humouring me.
"Well, I have to lead you on convincingly. It was already going to break your heart when I told you I didn't love you when I was going to end the relationship and breaking it earlier was too much pain for the present which I'm sure you'll want to draw many happy memories from in the future."
"Just admit you love me, Tani," Timothy said, rolling his eyes and leaning back in to kiss me.
‘I'd have thought I didn't need too. We're obviously not using this psychic connection thing very well.'
I think you are. Picking up on the fact I have no self-restraint.
‘Maybe it's 'cause you were already psychic. So used to tuning out other people's thoughts. I'm going to have to un-teach you all that stuff.'
Just make sure you don't un-teach me how to love you. That's something I need to stay alive.